As a book group, it is perhaps an embarrassment that not all of us are acquainted with Ernest Hemingway’s life and his work. This book, although from the point of view of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, taught us a lot about the man, and was very biographical. The members who already knew of Hemingway’s travels and personality, claimed that the writing was very kind of him, although still coming across as hard to live with, he had a reputation of being arrogant and difficult. It was nice to learn about his first wife and the kind of person she was, but the book lost out on being a bit too biographical and it became difficult to separate fact from fiction. It was a shame that the ending is disclosed at the beginning of the story, always leaving us with a sense of foreboding.
As the title suggests, much of the book is set in 1920’s Paris, but lacks a lot of description (apart from the night life and accommodation). Ernest and Hadley were said to be poor but were always going on holiday, which made hearing about their lack of funds a bit tiresome. There were so many major events, that the gaps in between became a bit blurred and lacked any imagination. The scenes in Spain were painted beautifully, and the Ernest’s passion and explanation of the bull fighting to many of his friends was so realistic.
Hadley was always annoyed about being observed as weak, but that’s how she came across in the book, very needy and lacking emotion. As some of the members have studied in more detail the life of Hemingway, they don’t feel he was portrayed accurately, but the book is fiction and the author may have wanted to soften his persona slightly. There were so many famous names dropped in throughout the book, those who the Hemingway's met throughout their married life; it felt a bit like McLain was padding out the chapters. All of their friends were stereotypical of the era, and of all the friends we felt that Pauline’s emotions came through the best.
I think we all liked that the book was based on letters between Ernest and Hadley, and the author was able to fill in gaps to create a fiction/bio novel (sometimes not pulled off so well). It was extremely sad, especially during their break up, and it was interesting to read about Paris in the post War years. The other parts which stood out included the Matador fights and when Pauline got into bed with Ernest and Hadley – How could Hadley stand for such an invasion on her intimacy!
We all liked the ending and were pleased that Hadley found happiness. The phone call was a good way to tie up the loose ends and proved that Ernest always cared deeply for Hadley and vice versa.
The writing style was clear and consistently flowed, some thought the middle lost pace a bit but remained easy to read. Some struggled to pick the book up as they don’t care much for Hemingway whilst others were intrigued and now wish to read “A Moveable Feast”, Hemingway’s own biographical book of the same era. Although poetic, it lacked emotion and around 50% of the members would read further work of McLain’s.
18 members gave this book an average of 6.2 out of 10 but our lowest score was 5 and our highest was 8.
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